Giving Spotlight | Meet Tanu Kaskinen, PulseAudio maintainer

Tanu, CCo

We have this week had the pleasure to interview Tanu Kaskinen about his work as PulseAudio maintainer

Do you want to introduce yourself?

Hello, my name is Tanu Kaskinen and I’m a PulseAudio maintainer (and also involved in the OpenEmbedded project a little bit).  I spent my childhood in Järvenpää, Finland, and moved to Tampere when I started my software engineering studies at Tampere University of Technology. I’ve been living here ever since (13 years, if my calculations are correct).

How did you become involved with PulseAudio and why do you think its’ an important project? 

At a time (2007, I think) I had a MIDI keyboard, and I wanted to play along while listening to music in Rhythmbox. That required running software synthesizers with JACK, but I couldn’t make Rhythmbox work properly with JACK. PulseAudio seemed like the future of desktop audio, and Rhythmbox certainly worked with PulseAudio. There was a PulseAudio module for bridging to JACK, but that was glitchy, so I decided to try to fix it (my first open source code contribution attempt!). In the end my fix was not needed after Lennart rewrote big parts of the PulseAudio core.

Why is PulseAudio important? Well, you need some sound server to manage application streams, be that dmix (in ALSA), JACK or PulseAudio. Having an intermediary between the applications and the kernel is required for a lot of flexibility that people expect from their systems.

What are some of the challenges about maintaining PulseAudio? 

I guess all projects have their set of difficult bugs… In case of PulseAudio, hardware specific issues are quite common. Not having the hardware yourself is of course one problem when debugging, but even if the issue can be tracked down to a clear misbehaviour in the kernel driver, the bug may be left unfixed, because I have never learned to work with kernel code, and the ALSA developers may ignore the bug report (I don’t really blame them, I believe ALSA is understaffed too).

Any interesting features that are being worked on right now?

Nothing earth-shattering comes to mind, but here are things that I’m personally excited about: Georg Chini has been working on a long-standing bluetooth bug about bad A/V sync when watching videos.  

I believe the Intel HDMI LPE hardware is becoming pretty widespread on new computers, and the kernel driver for that has certain unusual behaviour that makes PulseAudio enter an infinite loop when the HDMI cable is not plugged in. I’m happy that it will be fixed in the upcoming release.

There have been various small tweaks to automatic routing in recent releases, and those are going to continue. 

What keeps you involved in the PulseAudio community?

I feel a need to do something useful with my life, and maintaining PulseAudio fills that need quite nicely. It’s not always fun, but it’s not so un-fun either that I would feel compelled to quit. PulseAudio has been a significant part of my life for some 10 years, and at this point it’s a pretty big part of my identity.

Can you describe PulseAudio’s role/relevance in a desktop environment such as GNOME?

GNOME tries to make a computer easy to use, and things should “just work”. PulseAudio plays a big role in that when it comes to audio. Also, if the GNOME user interface designers or developers have a vision for how e.g. audio settings should be presented, they have to work within the capabilities of the sound server.

Are you yourself a GNOME user?

Yes I am! I started using Linux when Debian Woody was current, probably in 2003. I don’t remember how I initially chose GNOME, maybe just because it was the default? I’ve sticked with Debian and GNOME pretty much all this time .

Why are you doing a fundraiser?

Because I don’t want a real job :) I like having complete control over how I spend my time, and even if I didn’t feel so strongly about that, not many companies are willing to pay just for PulseAudio maintenance anyway. (Perhaps the number of such companies is even zero, but to be honest I haven’t tried reaching out to Red Hat or similar.)
In 2015 I found myself having enough savings to last at least a few years if I quit from my day job, and so I did. I wanted to spend more time on PulseAudio, because there was a shortage of maintainer resources in the project . In 2016 I launched the Patreon campaign to slow down the rate at which my savings are drained, and this year I started a similar campaign on Liberapay.

Questions for fun 

What is your favorite place on Earth?

Well, there’s a certain quiet spot on the shore of the Näsijärvi lake not too far from where I live. During summertime I sometimes go there to watch the sunset.

Favorite cake?

Hmm, I haven’t pondered this before, but I think the answer is the Swiss roll. Ideally with whipped cream and banana inside. I don’t know if I’ve ever eaten such Swiss roll, but I imagine that would be the optimal filling.

Thanks Tanu for taking time talking with us we wish you continued luck in your efforts!

Mid-June nigth in Tampere. CC0 Tanu Kaskinen

Consider support Tanu through his Patreon or Liberapay campaigns.

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